8 August, 2022


Vapours Of Cleverness

By Sarath de Alwis

Sarath de Alwis

Sarath de Alwis

It was a calculatedly choreographed media event. It was a dismal reminder that the Maithri Ranil coalition prefers the opaque to that of transparency in governance.

President Maithripala Sirisena with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe volunteered to be grilled by a patently patronizing inquisitor – media personality and UNP politician Upul Shantha Sanasgala on a live TV show “‘Wenasaka Arambuma’ [Genesis of a change]. The Sinhala program was telecast on all channels on 21st November the first anniversary of his shock decision to contest as the common candidate at the New Town Hall on 21st November 2014.

The President and the Prime Minister were flanked on either side by Venerable Rathana Thero, Field Martial Sarath Fonseka, Mr. Azath Salley, Ministers Patali Champika Ranawaka, Arjuna Ranatunga, Faizer Mustapha, Duminda Dissanayake and Rajitha Senaratne. As silent sentinels of ‘Change’ they adorned the dais and watched and listened to the inane profundities on the purpose and power of unusual promises and politics as usual. To subject them to be witness to the cynical exercise was rather clever. After all much water had flown under the Butterfly Bridge of the Diyawanna. Minister of Justice has dubbed the Field Martial a ‘Vel Vidane’. Minister Ranatunga has redefined ‘competence’ as the sharing of his own DNA with that of his nominees.

It was also a deft political act by the President. He asserted his ownership of the 8th January change. Prime Minster Wickremesinghe was content to play ‘Kautilya’ to the ‘Lord Protector’ whose term will end only in 2020.

The friendly inquisitor ensured that the questions were nuanced and responses were taken as final and conclusive. The President himself took the initiative at one point. He reminded his TV host why you don’t ask about the appointment of my brother as the head of SLT and his remuneration package.

The moderator obliged. “My brother receives the same salary that was paid to his predecessor and not a dime more. The speculations and rumors were the result of some divergence among the board members.” The TV host was naturally content with the response. He did not dare explore further.

The President was asked if he had met the Chairman of Avant-garde on 10th January. He did not remember. They came in their thousands to wish me. How would I remember people in such multitudes? Mr. Sannasgala did not bother to ask if he came in the company of Mr. Vajira Abeywardena !

That said we must concede that 8th January change has made some progress. A week end Sinhala broad sheet on the same day had published a related story on the same day. It claimed that ‘a proposal to enhance the Chairman’s remunerations had indeed been made. It was resisted by some members who have been subsequently replaced with more amenable directors.

The friendly host asked the Prime Minister for comments on the Central Bank Bond issue. The three member committee appointed to investigate the matter had exonerated the Governor. During elections he had promised that the new parliament will continue the probe undertaken by the earlier committee. He assured that it will be concluded in due course. The inquisitor did not venture to ask by when?

Upul Shantha Sannasgala the erudite TV anchor laced his introductory remarks with some curiously remarkable observations. One who got burnt with a firebrand fears even the glow of a fire fly. Conversely those used to the heat of a fire will wince even at a drop of dew.

That brings us to the question that confronts us today. What is the bargain we made on January 8th 2015?

Did we elect a Louis Napoleon? On hearing the surprise election of the nephew of the deposed emperor as the consensus Presidential candidate of the Monarchists and Catholics Karl Marx famously said “Because he was nothing he could appear to be everything.”

That is too harsh a verdict to be made in this instance. This writer still considers that Maithripala Sirisena the first non-elitist national leader can deliver what he promised. In trying to do that he must avoid the mistake made by Louis Napoleon – trying to transform a Goose in to an Eagle. When Bad laws are not repealed they not only continue to be in force but the very failure to repeal them gives it an extra sanctity of public consent.

The Prime Minister explained why those pilloried for wrong doings are still roaming free. “We cannot convict people and jail them” he explained. “Only a magistrate could do it.” How nice? Do Magistrates comb the countryside for wrong doers? Is it not the business of his Minister of Justice to ensure that the indictments reach the magistrates?

On 21st November 2014 Candidate Maithripala Sirisena saw the opportunity gap and seized it. On 21st November 2015 President Maithripala Sirisena pleaded that ten months in office has seen some progress but there is yet many miles to go.

The Prime Minister explained the raison d’être of the consensus coalition. Though of different colours we were fish in the same pond all surfacing for the same oxygen of democracy. That was clever remark.

Samantha Powers the distinguished visitor to our shores recently has written an introduction to the latest edition of Hannah Arendts seminal work Origins of Totalitarianism. Of Arendt’s philosophy she says was not its “vapours of cleverness” but its capacity to improve the human conditions. Today my only grandson turns fifteen. I live in hope.

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Latest comments

  • 2

    “Mr. Sannasgala did not bother to ask if the Chairman of Avant-garde came in the company of Mr. Vajira Abeywardena !”

    Everybody knows that President Sirisena is avoiding giving a direct answer. President has proved that he is not a trustworthy person to be the head of state.

  • 3

    Sarath de Alwis,

    Thanks for calling the bluff of this so called “Genesis for a change”.

    Change is occurring but the direction is unclear.
    The President and his government find that they cannot deliver all that was promised, and had to allow concessions – even defeated candidates were made MPs & ministers.

    Most corrupt public officials are still entrenched and cannot be removed or even transferred. Some, like P.B.Jayasundera even want to come back for a ‘piece of the pie’.

    The FCID appears to be unable to prosecute anyone, even with inquiries reported to be complete.

    The ‘Avant Garde / RALL’ combine is not being asked to explain procurement/disposal of 379 untraceable/illegal weapons while any villager with a ‘galkattas’ is remanded promptly.

    The peacetime army is allotted the highest amount in the budget.
    Police still beat up peaceful student demonstraters.

    Latest ploy/red herring is the proposal for a new constitution – while the present one is workable with modifications.

    Social justice is being trampled upon in that thousands of southerners who killed thousands in cold blood were freed without even rehabilitation, while notherners who have been jailed for up to 15 years are denied even a trial.

  • 2

    I presume Mr.Kumarasinghe Sirisena pays an income tax levy of Rs. 3.5 million on a
    monthly basis, as his predecessor must have done – who knows?

  • 4

    Whilst I generally find myself at odds with Sarath De Alwis’ writings, I am fully with him on this one. He has said what has to be said. However, I did find the “concept” refreshing (as opposed to the previous regime’s bloviations), if only through the presence of the wallflowers in the background. Must be the Lankan reincarnation of Roosevelt’s fireside chats. The man also has a much finer command of the Sinhala language than his predecessor, although his overall delivery leaves something to be desired (despite being far ahead of where his predecessor was at the beginning of his term – most people have forgotten Mahinda Rajapakse the worst orator of 2005 in favour of his carefully crafted and practiced displays 9 years later).

    I will not touch on the PM’s exceptionally poor delivery that is probably beyond help, despite his intellect (generally) and thought process.

    It would have been more realistic had there been less scripting and fawning, and more of a Paxman approach. Had the man been able to stand up to that more aggressive line, I would have been impressed.

    Still, could be worse. Onward, slowly but surely.

  • 1


    Thanks for exposing this media event as nothing but an excercise in public relations and nothing more. Getting the UNP politician Sannasgala to act as the moderator is not clever but very silly. It goes to cement the fact that the average Sri Lankan politicians still has no clue as to what constitutes ‘conflict of interest’.

    Yes, we voted for change and a change of leadership did occur. And some changes that did occur are really laudable. However the core irremediable dark heart of the Sri Lankan politicians, that is a weakness for wealth and filthy lucre, has begun to reestablish itself along with all associated Mephistophilic conduct within the ‘yahapalanaya’ government and the slippery slope path to repulsive political behaviour are once again reappearing quite starkly.

  • 0

    Same play with different players, as goo(bad) as the previous lot. ” All the worlds’ a stage and we are merely players’.Shakespeare. Oh what a show ,oh what a shame. Uneven exchanges, having mastered the art of deceit and deception.

  • 0

    If it is ONWARD even slowly and surely is acceptable. The unmitigated mess they inherited cannot be sorted overnight.

    Why is this author attacking the regime unreservedly ?

  • 0

    Don Quixote,

    Reformers are subject to different norms.

  • 0

    President Sirisena has already dropped one of the key pillars of good governance – No to Nepotism.
    But I too believe that Sirisena is definitely a better alternative to MR in creating an enabling environment for the people to live free from fear and intimidation. Still there it is not too late for Sirisena to take some treatment for his nepotistic tendency. As a man hailing from Polonnaruwa he along with his brothers are making hey when the sun shines!

  • 0

    How can a country depend on a proven liar? Sarath and the crowed that voted for this bunch of liars must have been delusioned.
    It is okay to be decieved by a bunch of people whom you trusted,but to continue to keep your faith on them is foolhardy and expecting them change can not be anything short of suicidal.
    I too have two young children and I fear for their future and guess that’s what you do too regarding your grand son.

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